Streep finds a cinematic soul mate in Marvinīs Room


When Bette Midler, generally considered the best actress of her generation, was the same age as Meryl Streep - 47 - she was "washed up", as they used to say. She had made All About Eve"five years earlier and was only a half-dozen years shy of What Ever Happenend to Baby Jane?

Streep, considered by many to be this generationīs best actress, still is playing love interests and sexually charged women such a Lee, the would-be cosmetician of Marvinīs Room.

"I really understand Lee," says Streep, looking younger than the middle-age character who must deal with her estranged cancer-stricken sister and her hostile son. "Trying to control her son and making just about every wrong move there is. So filled with outward determination and hope, and inside being so self-loathing and visiting that on her kid," Streep says. "The last thing you want is the worst part of you to be continued in your children. And thatīs exactly what she does. She turns him into someone who hates himself."

Marvinīs Room, which is being released nationally after early engagements in several major cities, is the kind of raw, emotional film - such a Sophieīs Choice and Kramer vs Kramer - that made her a star.

Written by Scott McPherson, who had AIDS when he wrote the script and has since died, MarvinīsRoom resonates with issues of mortality, family ties, prioritizing life goals and reconciling with roots. "The movie is hitting a chord. Maybe itīs all the aging boomers reconciling," Streep says. "Maybe itīs the mortality of our parents and coming to that age where you just have to either forgive or trash it out in some way with your family."

Streep doesnīt look much different than she did in 1978 in her breakthrough role as Linda, the working-class, small-town girl in The Deer Hunter. Her skin is pale and soft and unlined. The Lee of Marvinīs Room looks haggard and life-battered, as if Streep willed herself to look older.

Lee resonates strongly among the roles she has brought to life, Streep says. "I love them," she says of the many women whose spirits have inhabited her. And which of them maintain a special place in her heart? "I really love Helen, the character of Ironweed, says Streep, her face softening. "Sophie lives in my body. And Francesca in Bridges of Madison Country. And Postcards (from the Edge). And Heartburn - I loved playing that. But immediately I think of Helen in Ironweed".

Streep, known to pick her roles carefully, responds to the visceral reaction she feels when reading a script. "Itīs a feeling of my hert, really, literally racing. That is something that I understand. This situation that this person I am reading is in, and now Iīm in it. And it is nothing that I have purposely tried to do, but now Iīm in it." - "And then I call my agent and say, 'Yes, Iīll do it'," Streep laughs.

In her next role, for ABCīs ... First Do No Harm on Feb. 16, she plays a mother battling the medical establishment over the treatment of her epileptic child.

A quote from Dustin Hoffman - that acting with Meryl Streep is like being in the ring "and she delivers punch for punch" - is read aloud to Streep. She laughs. "He always talks in pugilistic terms about working with me. Like heīs girding himself for battle with the Gorgon or something." Streep, who won a supporting actress Oscar playing opposite Hoffman in Kramer vs Kramer, calls the actor "relentless - though I might add, some really wonderful people are relentless in the pursuit of what they want."

And what about Robert De Niro, her most frequent co-star (Deer Hunter, Falling in Love and Marvinīs Room)?

"Oh...," she moans, wondering how to respond. "Iīve known him for 20 years, and my feelings about him as an actor are mixed up with my feelings about him as a friend. Heīs the most loyal person in the world. His talent is just gorgeous. And every time I work with him, I learn something. Even in my old age, just this last time, I learned working with him."

Special moments of actor-to-actor chemistry she has experienced?

"Oh! Thatīs a lot of people," Streep says immediately. "Thatīs Diane (Keaton, who plays Streepīs sister, Bessie, in Marvinīs Room) ... She is physically incapable of actorishness or falsity or any kind of punching up the line for the laughs. Sheīs just real. Because sheīs really on a very high order of artist."

Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays her tough-sensitive son in Marvinīs Room, impressed her. "Leonardoīs the real thing. A fabulous little genius," she says.

Contemporaries of Streep such as Hoffman, De Niro, Robert Duvall and Gene Hackamn have commented on an attitudinal shift among younger actors, who will come up to them asking how to 'make it'. Has Streep noticed a generational difference?

"Oh, yes," she says and nods. "And I donīt think itīs just b**** either. Glen (Close) and I have talked about this. I think it has to do with coming up in the theater. The ethos of 'the playīs the thing' ... weīre all in this together. Not 'maybe I can get a series out of this if Iīm reviewed well on Broadway'. Thatīs not the way we thought. Young actors think a career is something that means business. We thought of a career as life work, and you look at the body of work."